The mystery surrounding this legendary pilot's disappearance has never been solved, but one scientist is convinced that we already have — or had — the evidence that points us in the right direction. Anthropology professor Richard Jantz is pretty sure that Amelia Earhart's bones were discovered on a remote island, which fits a publicized theory that Earhart died a castaway after landing her plane on the uninhabited island.
Earhart is famous for being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, a feat she accomplished in 1932 when she was 34 years old. Later the intrepid adventurer was attempting to fly around the world when she and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared on July 2, 1937. People have speculated over the years what happened during Earhart's final flight, but now a University of Tennessee study claims with near certainty that 13 bones, found in 1940 on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro, belong to Earhart. This study contradicts the results of a 1941 forensic analysis on the remains, which concluded the bones most likely belonged to a "short, stocky muscular European" man; Earhart had a slender frame and Noonan was more than 6 feet tall.
Although the bones have been subsequently lost, Jantz was able to run the skeletal measurements through a computer program to estimate the sex, ancestry, and stature.
The computer program, Fordisc, is widely used by forensic anthropologists around the world. Combined with modern quantitive techniques, Jantz's data show that the bones have more similarity to Earhart than to 99 percent of individuals in a large reference sample, according to the journal Forensic Anthropology, where the study was published.
Dr. David Hoodless, principal of the Central Medical School in Fiji, conducted the original analysis in 1941. "We can agree that Hoodless may have done as well as most analysts of the time could have done, but this does not mean his analysis was correct," Jantz said in the paper.
According to the abstract in Forensic Anthropology:
When Hoodless conducted his analysis, forensic osteology was not yet a well-developed discipline. Evaluating his methods with reference to modern data and methods suggests that they were inadequate to his task; this is particularly the case with his sexing method. Therefore his sex assessment of the Nikumaroro bones cannot be assumed to be correct.
Along with bones, a search party also found a shoe that most likely belonged to a woman, a navigation instrument that would have been similar to the one Noonan used, and a bottle of Bénédictine herbal liqueur, something Earhart was known to carry.
Earhart and Noonan disappeared on the longest leg of their journey while en route to Howland Island. Many people believe Earhart ran out of fuel while searching for the island, consequently crashing and sinking into the sea. A group of researchers, Jantz included, believe that Earhart and Noonan would have emergency landed somewhere before running out of fuel. That spot could have very well been Nikumaroro, also known as Gardner Island, an uninhabited coral atoll spanning 4.4 square miles and located 406 miles away from Howland Island.
Another theory is that Earhart and Noonan landed on Saipan or the Marshall Islands, where Japanese soldiers captured them and possibly executed them. While there were sightings reported of Earhart and Noonan at various locations following their disappearance, none of them were confirmed.
Along with her enduring legacy is the unsolved mystery of what happened to Earhart. While we may never know what caused her disappearance, we may at least know where she ended up. As Jantz writes in his paper, "Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers."